Home prices rise 5 percent in April in the Baltimore area

Home prices in the Baltimore area climbed to the highest level of any April since the recession, housing analysts reported Wednesday.

The median sales price jumped 5 percent year-over year last month, reflecting an improving economy and a low supply of properties for sale during the year's prime buying time.

"The pendulum has absolutely swung into a sellers' market," said Alyssia Essig, president-elect of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors. "We're seeing more instances of multiple offers. The days on the market are going down as well. ... There are a lot of buyers that are looking, and there are not houses available to buy."

Values have been rising, year-over-year, for 14 months, as inventory has dwindled. The median sales price hit $255,500 last month, the highest for any April since 2008, according to analysts with MarketStats of the real estate information firm ShowingTime.

The median price reached $260,000 in April 2008, just months after the start of the recession, and hovered well below that level each April until last month, the analysts reported, based on housing data from multiple listing service MRIS.

Andrew Strauch, a vice president at MRIS parent Bright MLS, said April's median price surge was "in the range of a good, healthy amount for appreciation. It's definitely higher than it's been for the last few years," when values tended to rise in the 2 percent to 3 percent range.

Strauch said he expects higher prices and dwindling inventory will prompt more people who are considering moving to put their homes on the market in coming months.

The number of houses sold in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Harford, Howard, Anne Arundel and Carroll counties rose 2 percent to 3,264 compared with a year earlier, but new contracts were off 8 percent, the analysts reported.

Inventory shrank for the 20th straight month. The total number of home listings fell nearly 15 percent, while properties newly listed in April dipped by nearly 8 percent. Homes available for sale dipped to their lowest April level in a decade.

That gave sellers an edge. Properties changed hands after an average of about 26 days on the market, and sellers got on average more than 96 percent of their asking price.

Brian Henry put his three-bedroom split-level house in Lutherville on the market in January so he and his wife could move to Delaware after her retirement. About a year earlier, they had remodeled to prepare to sell.

The couple had nearly 50 potential buyers come through for showings, Henry said. They got only one offer, but had a contract on the house in less than two months.

"If the house is in good shape, where the kitchen and bathrooms have been remodeled to today's standards, people will jump right on your house," Henry said.

Gail Rowe, a veteran real estate agent at Century 21 in Parkville, said the switch to a seller's market happened around mid-March and is continuing. She said many homes are immediately getting multiple offers.

"That's what creates a seller's market — there's more buyers than homes," Rowe said. "Many times, if you're working with a buyer they've got to run out and look at it right away because there's multiple offers.

"It definitely has switched from a buyer's market to a seller's market, but it's still a good time for buyers because there's programs out there and the rates are really good."

Brian Lipsky, the office manager at the Ellicott City office of Long and Foster, said agents are seeing a return of buying habits from the early 2000s, when buyers would "throw caution to the wind" and not make their offers contingent on inspections or appraisals.

"Houses that are priced right and in good shape in our area in Howard County are selling very quickly after they come on the market," Lipsky said. "It's a great time to be in it, especially if you're a seller."

Fewer new listings hit the market in April than in March or in April 2016, the report showed.

Several factors could be holding back potential sellers, Essig said. Homeowners who paid top dollar just before the housing market crash might just be regaining value in their homes, she said. Others might not want to give up a more attractive interest rate as rates have begun creeping up.

Despite the sellers' market, Essig said, buyers are remaining relatively cautious, which is helping to keep home price appreciation at a much lower level than during the boom of the early 2000s.

Shelagh Hafner, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Towson, said prices are beginning to creep up at a faster rate partly because it's become easier to find comparable homes needed for appraisals.

Still, she said, inventory remains limited. She said she has had multiple offers on several of her most recent listings.

"The buyers are out there. ... They're just waiting for the right house," she said. "Things are selling within a week if they're priced right."

Marsha Butschky, an elementary school teacher in Baltimore County, lucked out as a buyer. After checking regularly online and working with Hafner, she found her house in about six weeks.

Butschky was looking for a house within walking distance of stores and restaurants in Towson. She toured a newly listed townhouse in Goucher Woods and made an offer within days. She settled on the house in January.

"It was a pretty positive process for me," she said. "We found that house online just days after it had gone on the market. It was easy because we found it so early."

Townhouses had the biggest gains in median price, rising nearly 11 percent, the MRIS data showed, followed by single-family detached homes, up 7.7 percent, and condos, up 4.6 percent.

Howard County continued to be the most expensive area, with a median sales price of $400,000, while Baltimore was the most affordable, with a median home price of $140,000. Values were up the most in Baltimore County, increasing nearly 9 percent to a median sale price of $234,000.

Baltimore Sun reporter Carrie Wells contributed to this article.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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